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All Days Are Night

Review

All Days Are Night

written by Peter Stamm, translated by Michael Hofmann

Peter Stamm’s ALL DAYS ARE NIGHT is a surprising take on love, identity and art, written in three parts. The story opens in a featureless, highly disorienting environment where Gillian is recovering from a devastating car accident. She has not yet fully awoken from the trauma, only half waking sometimes before drifting away and “lapsing back into weightlessness.” Though Stamm’s writing is sparse, he successfully conveys the brutal reality of Gillian’s ordeal. When she finally regains consciousness, we learn that she has been horribly disfigured in the crash and her husband, Matthias, is dead. Both were prominent figures in the art scene, with Gillian hosting a popular television program and Matthias similarly involved in entertainment. Gillian’s very public career adds a level of drama to her already upsetting injuries, preparing the reader for a great change in her life.

Although Gillian mourns for Matthias, she seems more shocked to know that one of her constants has disappeared than devastated at the loss of a lover. When her father comes to visit, we see that she is not exactly close with her family, either. Her lack of strong bonds may seem strange, but, given the painful healing process, her detachment feels appropriate. Stamm’s bleak writing style lends to this mood, enveloping the reader in a sort of comfortable melancholy that feels like a rainy day.

As Gillian recuperates, it comes to light that she and Matthias had argued before leaving for the party that resulted in the crash. Time seems to blur, and we are transported to the night of the crash, where Matthias has just come home and is furious with Gillian after developing a series of provocative photos of her from an old roll of film. Though he pretends to be worried that the photo lab technician kept a copy for himself, it is clear that he is threatened by his wife --- her beauty, her confidence, her ability to do things without him --- and they make the uncomfortable drive to a friend’s place for a New Year’s party. They agree beforehand that Gillian will drive home, but, upset with Matthias, she drinks too much. He unsteadily takes the wheel before swerving to avoid a deer and nearly killing them both.

"Not quite a love story but not exactly a falling-out-of-love story either, ALL DAYS ARE NIGHT shows readers that life goes on, no matter how brutal or beautiful it may seem now."

It would be easy to assume that Gillian’s sexy photos were taken by a lover, but Stamm’s writing is far more complex. Through glimpses into Gillian’s past, we see her at her best: interviewing a famous artist for her television program. The artist, Hubert Amrhein, has earned some acclaim for his series of paintings and photographs of ordinary nude women completing ordinary tasks, such as brewing coffee or making a bed. With Hubert’s eye, these ladies transcend their nudity and become classical figures. When Gillian meets Hubert, she finds him a bit conceited, with answers that seem almost rehearsed. Still, there is obvious tension between the two, something palpable and distinct, though not immediately sexual.

While present-day Gillian undergoes multiple surgeries and begins to look like her old self, she recalls the anonymous emails she sent to Hubert following her segment. After some time, they agree to meet, and Hubert is not surprised to find out that she is the anonymous sender. They soon take off to his studio, but Hubert does not ask to take Gillian’s picture, feeling that her popularity makes her difficult for him to photograph as he is familiar with her face and would be unable to look for anything behind it. In time, of course, he changes his mind, but their meetings frustrate more than inspire him. Gillian is too detached and unable to really make herself present, forcing him to challenge and chip away at her constructed identity. When she agrees to pose nude, sparks nearly fly off the page, yet still she cannot move Hubert to make the great art their chemistry suggests is possible. Exasperated herself, Gillian makes a move on Hubert, but he immediately declines as his girlfriend is expecting their first child in a month. And then comes the crash.

The second part of ALL DAYS ARE NIGHT reunites us with Hubert, six years after his meetings with Gillian. He is now married to his girlfriend, Astrid, and their son, Lukas, is just starting kindergarten. Their marriage is turbulent, between Hubert’s art suffering and Astrid constantly throwing herself at various New Age teachings and career paths. Hubert receives an invitation to visit a cultural center high in the mountains and prepare for an upcoming art show. Hubert briefly entertains the idea of running away from his dysfunctional life, but cannot fathom how he would get over his artistic block that has prevented him from making anything meaningful in years. As the cultural center’s invitations keep coming, he keeps evading them until Astrid asks him for a trial separation as she has a new lover, Rolf, and would like to see how things progress with him. Hubert, who is teaching art at the local university, gets his own apartment and begins an affair with a student, though it does not seem very passionate. In time, he agrees to visit the cultural center, but has no photographs, sketches or even concepts prepared.

Though we are not yet sure whether or not Gillian will return to the story, we are certainly reminded of her life post-accident and the frustrations she felt. Hoping that the scenery and fresh air will move him, Hubert picks a large room at the center and settles himself into the small mountain town, beginning with the hotel next door. It is here that he sees an almost-familiar face and learns that it belongs to the hotel’s entertainment director, Jill.

Peter Stamm has a marvelous talent for endings, so I won’t divulge what happens in part three. It’s definitely worth the read, despite some strange editing issues that can be distracting. Not quite a love story but not exactly a falling-out-of-love story either, ALL DAYS ARE NIGHT shows readers that life goes on, no matter how brutal or beautiful it may seem now. Stamm’s blurred distinctions between past and present leave the focus on his characters, challenging their identities even as they highlight them. Through pushing his characters to mental breaks, he asks his readers to really consider what motivates Gillian and Hubert and, in turn, what motivates the reader.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on April 22, 2014

All Days Are Night
written by Peter Stamm, translated by Michael Hofmann

  • Publication Date: November 4, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 141 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press
  • ISBN-10: 1590516966
  • ISBN-13: 9781590516966